While diversity is “the right thing to do,” it will get more support if it is also good for business. A business approach to diversity includes: (1) it is based on facts; (2) there is a strong business case; (3) it is expressed in non-judgmental terms. For example, an initiative to improve gender diversity will be based on where women are represented, turnover rates and levels of measurable engagement. The business case for gender diversity must be spelled out. And root causes for not having gender diversity must be expressed so men aren’t put on the defensive.
Gender diversity at the top will happen only if men becomes allies for the cause. Allies are most likely to be found among three types of men: (1) men who get that their businesses — and they personally — will make more money with gender diversity in leadership; (2) men who have experienced being an outsider or are close to someone who has experienced discrimination; (3) men with daughters who have a personal interest in seeing barriers removed.
Reactions to Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article in the Atlantic have included that neither men nor women can “have it all.” This is now an issue for men as well as women so it is more important for employers to implement the changes suggested in the Slaughter article. Not only will those changes benefit men and women, they will help employers retain women, who suffer the most from the “have it all” issue. But employers must also create inclusive cultures that allow women as well as men to feel valued and included. Such a culture helps a woman handle the juggling of career and family and allows more women to reach the top. This enables employers to reap the benefits of gender diversity in leadership.
Diversity in the workplace is unlikely to be either successful or sustainable if the culture isn’t inclusive. Inclusion is about how people experience the workplace. It is inclusive if as many people as possible feel valued, sense they belong and feel they can succeed. I suggest practicing inclusion on one group, women, who remain “minorities” at the upper levels of business. Leaders should determine if there is gender diversity or if retention and promotion of women is an issue. Study the numbers, turnover rates, engagement and causes of women’s disengagement.
There is a compelling business case for gender diversity and inclusion. Yet women still aren’t proportionally represented at higher levels of business. Where do they go? They go to another employer, disengage and quit climbing or start their own businesses. The causes are both “push factors” and “pull factors.” While women’s role in the family is an important push factor, businesses should focus on push factors, including “invisible mind-sets” that cause women to disengage or leave. The root causes of these push factors are the “comfort principle” and “unconscious preferences.” Understanding the causes of disengagement can enable the solution, which includes bringing to conscious awareness those invisible mind-sets.